Kass v. Kass
Embryos As Property
In a unanimous decision, the New York Court of Appeals ruled in favor of upholding the contract which required both parties' consent before the embryos could be used for impregnation. Ms. Kass could not use the frozen embryos to impregnate herself without the consent of her former husband. Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye, delivering the majority's opinion, stressed the consent agreement, formally agreed upon prior to the dispute, must be honored and enforced. Kaye wrote that the disposition of the embryos did not invade a woman's right to privacy or any physical bodily integrity regarding reproductive choice. Also, Ms. Kass had not argued that the consent agreement violated any public policy, or that it was not enforceable due to their circumstances. In fact, the agreement was developed to protect against the mishandling of the embryos if a dispute arose, and to prevent the decision being taken out of their hands by a stranger.
Thus, the Kass court did find that the one question left to decide was whether the consent agreement was sufficiently written to resolve the specific situation in which the couple found themselves. In making such a determination, Kaye wrote that the court could only look within the "four corners" of the document, meaning that only the parties' intent reflected in the written document would be considered. When conducting such an analysis, the court may also consider the current relation of the individuals to each other and the circumstances surrounding the document's execution. Such a process would guard against any assumptions by the court that may be counter to what the parties originally desired. If the overall intention of the parties is clear in the agreement, the agreement should apply, and be fully enforced. Regarding the Kasses, the court determined through analyzing their document that the agreement "unequivocally manifest[s]" their intentions, and the embryos should be donated to the IVF program for research.